guilt

31 days: Writing Goals, how to achieve them & what if you don’t

This series of articles running through January will explore ways of keeping our head above water in physical, mental, emotional and creative areas. There will be creative challenges, competitions and giveaways. For the full background see here.

To receive all the 31 posts, sign up for email notification on the sidebar. On twitter it’s at @31HAW or @alisonwells. Hashtag  #31haw and #headabovewater.

Aims and intentions – direction but not dictatorship.

There are many blogposts across the internet about setting goals this January but the emphasis I want to put on this post is yes, on achieving goals but not beating yourself up in the process! Speaking from experience I know how we can scupper ourselves by getting frantic, confused and guilty so this is what I’ve done that helps me.

1: Write a desire manifesto
Write what you want to do/achieve most of all. Under that write your lesser aims. You will know what’s most important to you and what you need to put ahead of everything else.

2: Be optimistic

There is tremendous energy in intention itself. I talk about intention in this post and how Orna Ross says that aims are not about ‘should’ but come from a more positive position. So set out what you would love to achieve in the coming months. We want to give ourselves parameters within which we can organise our life, we’re not talking sticks and sadness. We want to get away from a vague sense of dissatisfaction and see what kinds of activities and achievements will give us energy and makes us happier. At this stage jot down your wildest dreams.

3: Be realistic and specific

We’ve all heard about making aims SMART, specific, measurable, achieveable, realistic and timebound. Again, we need to set the parameters. It would be marvellous if we could write 3 novels in a month but it probably won’t happen. Subject your wildest dreams and aims to a reality test. Could you finish your novel draft by next month? Do you hope to start your next project by March. Do you need to fit in smaller projects along the way? Can you assign specific time slots to these?

Note: This is not set in stone! Your projects will take longer or less time than you think, family issues will occur. You DO NOT NEED TO FEEL YOU HAVE FAILED OR SHOULD BE GUILTY. So what if you’re 20 years too late to be considered for the 30 under 30 prize, is that really what you wanted anyway? And what would you be happy with instead?

4: Keep a ‘to do’ journal and track progress and achievement (this is magic!)

Get an A4 book into which you write your monthly, weekly and daily aims. Each day or week tick off what you’ve done (a big enthusiastic tick). If something is left undone add it in to the following week. Periodically (monthly, quarterly) write a list of achievements such as submissions made or pieces accepted, words written, ideas gathered. (There’s more on this below!)

What I find so good about this practice is that it gets everything out of my head, my to do list is not circulating in my mind and causing anxiety, I can clearly see what I want to do, what I have done and what I need to do to finish what I set out to do.

3: Regig your schedule regularly.

Based on the information you discover see where you need to add effort, prioritize or take away goals altogether. Again this is a rational and clever thing to do. There is no shame in not achieving everything. (Even superheroes have to send their costumes to the dry cleaners every so often!)

4: Set both tiny goals and marvellous ones

If you set tiny goals you can build on them. If you aim to write 500 words a day you will energise yourself by your success rather than disheartening yourself by your aim to do 2000. The energy of your achievement and it’s confidence will make it more likely that you can achieve 2000 words. Didn’t you know you had wings and could fly?

But equally big goals like the 50,000 word writing challenge Nanowrimo can work. If you see yourself by steady progression scaling the heights of such a challenge (through effort and camaraderie) you will forever know what you are capable of and that is a certainty that cannot be taken away from you.

5: Write an achievement manifesto

When I arrive at the pages where I write my quarterly summary of successes I am always surprised. It’s so easy to forget what you have achieved, even if it’s something quite significant. We often have a tendency to underplay success and focus on what we haven’t done yet. So writing down what we have achieved from solving family squabbles to winning the local poetry competition to writing your first flash fiction to winning the Booker prize is very important. We can take some time to see how these achievements reflect what we set out to do or whether some of the things we did took us in new directions that turned out to be rather wonderful. You can even go a bit crazy and write compliments to yourself on this page. I’ll be talking about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy techniques to help stop negative thoughts more fully in a future post and the positive feedback we can give ourselves in this achievement manifesto is an important part of that. This is our feelgood CV, imagine listing your achievements for a job, you can make yourself sound very impressive!

And what if you don’t succeed?

Psychology and Weiner’s attribution theory tells us that we attribute our own success to our efforts and other people’s success to luck. Failure works round the other way. I’m not so sure that those of us who feel responsible for everything, don’t attribute our success to chance and our failure to ourselves. There are those of us who set such high standards that we are bound to fail.

In the modern day though we have this impression that everyone can succeed if they just try. There is truth to the idea that if we start off more optimistic we’ll be more alert to opportunities and we’ll try things, whether it’s enter competitions or self-publish, become entrepreneurs or apply for a job that’s a little too far out of our reach (or is it?) It’s also true however that even if we’ve written a brilliant book for example or have been writing solidly for 20 years, there is a chance we’ll be unlucky and just won’t make it or perhaps we’re not as good as we hoped.

BE CLEVER!

If we are not getting where we want to we might need to get some constructive criticism. We might have to decide whether the love of writing is enough beyond financial success. We might take joy from other aspects of our lives that can make a rich cloth in its entirety. We can hope for posthumous fame. We need to figure out what aspects of life make it just good enough, what small pleasures add up into a satisfying whole. There has to be balance between making our goals and dreams strong enough and big enough to make us work hard & commit to our own success and also realising that to make one ambition the be all and end all is to set ourselves up for misery.

YOU HAVE NOT FAILED!

We need to become good not beating ourselves up about not meeting targets. We need to be clever and reassess, not take it as failure.

What do you think, is there a way to maintain our optimism and intention while not beating ourselves up for the things we don’t manage to do?

Writing and Guilt

These days we call upon ourselves to be everything in perfection. In the wider world success and fame are seen to be a criterion for happiness. In all aspects of our existence, health, parenting, relationships, careers we have been assaulted by a multitude of ‘shoulds’. These have been substituted for common sense and instinct. Even if we are self-assured and confident people we still find ourselves,  through out networks, in contact with, aware of, and affected by the social norms and influences that run through the networks.

The voice of commonsense, of our mother’s perhaps (who we don’t want to listen to always) would tell us that we can’t do it all. We can’t blog, write an enormous amount of words a day, build our platform, take part in online writing communities, do reviews, interviews, take proper care of our loved ones, our children, hold down, perhaps, another job, keep the house clean, get a publishing deal and appear beautifully pristine in the local paper on the day of our launch, keep our partner, happy, ‘satisfied’, keep in regular contact with all our friends, keep fit, slim and win a Booker.

I often, in the social media channels see people apologising for not getting back to others, not doing #followfriday (where you recommend, on Twitter, good people to follow), not having a #fridayflash. I myself apologise for not getting back to people quickly, not doing a review I promised to do. I spend quite a bit of time thinking where I think I should have got to by now and getting annoyed with myself that I haven’t yet done what I hoped to do.

All this guilt. Sapping the energy out of our lives and our projects. Never mindfully living, concentrating on the experience or enjoyment of what we are doing at a particular moment.

It’s almost September. For many of us with children, it has a New Year feel about it. We want to organise and orient ourselves. Our lives feel cluttered. We can become overwhelmed and half-hearted about our lives and our writing. We can feel that we are not giving enough to either, that we are letting ourselves down in both spheres.For me, I’m pretty sure that the niggling feelings of guilt lead to LESS productivity, MORE stress and LESS satisfaction with life and my interactions and relationships with others.

In terms of writing, feelings of guilt may come from others if they do not appreciate the time spent on a ‘hobby’. We might feel guilty about taking time to do the thing we love when there are so many other pulls. Guilt might become a vicious cycle. We might try to write but it may take longer than we are happy with because we are not able to concentrate properly, because all the shoulds about where we should be now with our novel, what sort of book we should be writing, what we should be doing instead of this etc etc etc sap our energy and distract us from pure imagination and the joy of creating.

These are the ways that I am trying to move away from guilt both in writing and in life.

Give myself credit: Document each day what tasks, writing and otherwise I have accomplished, reflect on the pleasant activities or interactions I have had with family and friends. For writing specifically, review a monthly list of everything I have achieved in that time.

Outline my intentions: In a previous post I mentioned intention journaling, a method used by StudioMothers.com founder Miranda Hershey. She writes down every morning what she would like to achieve for the day. Writing them down clears our heads of our to do lists and allows us to check against them at the end. If short of time we can just jot down a short list in a diary and come back to it at the end of the day.

Outline small achieveable specific goals and check progress against them: This may be a daily wordcount that is highly achieveable (we can extend it more at a later point if we want). Realising that we have written 500 words a day, every day for the last month will show us that we are progressing.

Take breaks: We all have our own rhythms and after 40 mins on a particular task we begin to flag. It’s okay to take a break or to write in short bursts and the goals help us to do this because then we can work towards the goal and not just spend hours gluing ourselves to our writing chair hardly producing anything and feeling that we have ‘writer’s block’. Cut out distractions and stick with it but if you are overtired and it’s not working, go do one of the other tasks in your life, like sock pairing. Surely it’s time you spend some time on that!

Keep an eye on balance: Think about what you want in your life as well as writing.Good relationships, social outings, days out with family rest. Keep an eye on physical factors which hugely affect mood and energy, rest, good food, exercise. If some areas are flagging then make just take time to text, email or phone friends, have a regular family day out, take a daily walk, buy some delicious fresh fruit or ingredients for a delicious, healthy meal.

Kill two birds with one stone

The delicious meal can be prepared with your children, as a fun activiity, or you could do a writing course or visit an interesting venue with a friend.  Use your writing twice, exercise & find writing ideas as you walk.

Turn it all off

Sometimes it’s time to rest, to have fun, to turn off the computer, to go out of the house, to pick fruit, to mess about with boats or in the garden. You should not be writing your novel, you should not be keeping up to date with the forums or researching publishers, you should be out in the world living, filling up your energy and happiness for all your future endeavours, enjoying yourself just for sake of it.

Are you making plans to take the guilt out of your life and to organise yourself. Are there any things that you want to share that have worked for you?

Confessions of a guilty writing mum

  • I let my children sit in front of the telly during the holidays for great swathes of time (never did me any harm – in fact it taught me about narrative, character, humour). They concentrate on educational programmes like Horrible Histories (surrealism, history) and Greatest TV blunders (media awareness) and Come Dine with Me (wishful thinking about dinner/cookery skills).
  • I tidy up by shoving everything into cupboards and closing the door very firmly by leaning on it. The estate agent who sold our last house told me a funny anecdote about everything falling out of a cupboard when the prospective buyers were taking a look. I wonder why he chose that story for me?
  • In times of crisis my children look for me, not in the kitchen, but in the study.
  • I’ve forgotton the names of my children (joke!).
  • I do all the housework for the day in one hour, including making the dinner. Before my husband comes home I do a breakneck tidy of the kitchen in 5 mins so that it won’t look so bad when he arrives.
  • My two year old makes his own Weetabix (awwwww).
  • I burn some part of the dinner or lunch on 50% of occasions but I always get my twitter friends to remind me when I’m grilling peppers.
  • My oven hasn’t been cleaned in 3 years.
  • In the holidays we have ‘clothes’ days rather than ‘pajama days’
  • I fool the younger children by giving them the ‘priviledge’ of hoovering or filling the washing machine
  • My children have forgotton my name (I wish).

What are your guilty secrets?

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine